Hundreds of miles of toll roads on the line as governor considers Suncoast Parkway bill

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A group of environmentalists began a major push Tuesday to try to convince Gov. Ron DeSantis to tear up a toll roads bill that's waiting for his approval.

The bill (SB 7068) would extend or create hundreds of miles of toll roads throughout the state and was a priority of Sen. Bill Galvano (R-Bradenton).

"Governor DeSantis is our only hope to stop this terrible bill," said Frank Jackalone, senior organizing manager of the Sierra Club, which his holding three demonstrations this week. "It would destroy a lot of what remains of natural Florida."

The measure would extend the Suncoast Parkway north to the Georgia border, connect the Florida Turnpike with the Suncoast and add a new multi-use corridor, including a toll road, from Polk to Collier County.

Environmentalists said the impact on Florida's resources would be devastating.

"This is the worst bill that we have seen for the Florida environment in more than 20 years. It really is terrible," Jackalone said. "It's not just environmentalists who are concerned, it's people who live in these rural areas who are going to see their communities become ghost towns if new roads are built five miles to the west."

Galvano, however, believes this type of infrastructure project is long overdue.

"The population growth within the state of Florida is such that we need to plan for the future," the senator said, adding the bill is necessary to help push economic development into rural areas and provide additional evacuation routes. "All you had to do was try to evacuate Florida during Irma to realize it's not working."

The bill was delivered to the governor's desk Monday. DeSantis now has 15 days to decide whether to sign it into law, veto it, or take no action, effectively allowing it to become law on its own.

Galvano said the measure would then create a task force to determine the best way to proceed while minimizing the environmental impact.

"The bill is very specific about addressing environmental issues and having the voices heard of those who would want to weigh in," he explained.

The establishment of a task force would be followed by a series of public hearings. Construction would not begin until 2022.